RHA Monitoring To The Max!!!
For the last couple of weeks we did Rangeland Health Assessments (RHAs)! We had to go to a site that was previously monitored the prior year and we had to monitor it again this year. We did all kinds of monitoring! Many of the BLM employees and interns worked on a variety of protocols. We did three point line monitoring transects. We spread out three measuring tapes measuring to 150 feet at 0°, 120°, 240° degrees and read the species composition and the ground type every three feet along the transect. To monitor the sage grouse, we measured the height and length of all the sagebrush in the transect. We wanted to see if this site was a healthy representation for sage grouse habitat.
The Daubenmire monitoring protocol looked at the percentage of annual/perennial forbs, annual/perennial grasses, bare ground, and last year’s plants within a Daubenmire rectangle every ten feet along a transect for one hundred feet. This could help us see the general composition percentage of plants, litter and bare ground of the site we were working on. We checked for all kinds of shrubs and assessed their age. We wanted to see how many shrubs were young, mature, desiccant (half dead…or half alive??), or dead.
The soil and site assessment looked at the soil composition to see what type of soil was on the site. We would dig a deep hole so we could look at the soil composition and soil profile. Typically, the soil was loamy to sandy on each of the sites. We can also tell what kind of soil the site had based on the species composition of the site. For example, we could tell it is a sandy site based on the large percentage of needle and thread grass (Hesperostipa comata) everywhere. One of us would go out and try to identify as many plants as possible on the site. We would develop a list of shrubs, forbs, and grasses for the plant accumulation assessment part of the monitoring. The final assessment to complete the RHAs was the erosion assessment. We looked at the landscape to determine if there were any signs of erosion such as gullies, rills, and pedestalling. Luckily, most of the sites were in good condition beyond the cheatgrass (Bromus tectorum) .<_<
Buffalo, WY CLM Interns are always ready for more RHAs!!!
The Rumble in Thunder Basin
Early in the morning the rangeland workers, wildlife biologists, and a few geologists would drive an hour and a half to different allotments in the Northern Gillette region of Wyoming for monitoring. This region looked like the Badlands in South Dakota, but the landscape was covered with a variety of grasses, forbs, and yellow sweet clover (Melilotus officinalis). (I thought it was horrible and funny to see the yellow sweet clover grow on the back roads. Those flowers made the back roads look like the Yellow Bricked Road from the Wizard of Oz.) Many species of grasses were dominate in the sandy-loamy soils such as Western Wheatgrass (Pascopyrum smithii), Needle and Thread, Green Needlegrass (Nassella viridula), Blue Grama (Bouteloua gracilis), and Sandberg’s Bluegrass (Poa secunda) to name a few. There were also introduced species present in the landscape such as Japanese Brome (Bromus japonicus), Cheatgrass, and the repugnant North Africa Grass (Ventenata dubia). (/OoO)/ oh no!!
I swear, this is not a painting. This is real! This was located in the Thunder Basin!
The Gillette Region was well known for resource extraction and it was our main area for RHA monitoring. Coal, oil, and natural gas have been mined in this region for a very long time. Massive quarries could be seen with huge terex rock trucks hauling tons of coal to the transportation areas, so the resources could be hauled away by trains within and outside the United States. Some of the tires on the trucks were about 10-12 feet high! O_O Within many of our monitoring sites we would see many pumpjacks (oil horses) working to extract oil from the ground. Every so often we would see H2S warning signs and we would just roll up our windows and quickly drive through the area. (We were assured that there was nothing to fear and the dangerous H2S sites were not active in our area.) ^_^;;
Pumpjack/ Oil Horse
Heather, Sara, Jill and I were working on three point line intercepts one afternoon until we heard a soft rumble. It felt like a small earthquake that only lasted a couple of seconds. We continued with work as usual and twenty minutes later we felt another rumble. All of us were curious what was causing the minor quake and we thought it was coming from the quarries. Kay and Dusty were saying that the small rumbles we were feeling were indeed coming from one of the quarries, which were using dynamite to blast more rock. Those small rumbles in the Thunder Basin were really incredible and bizarre at the same time. (I wonder if I can tell time by the number of explosions I feel in one hour?)
Beyond the man-made small rumbles, Thunder Basin has encountered many severe thunderstorms recently. Flash flood warnings, strong winds, hail, thunder, lightning, and torrential downpours were occurring all over the region we were monitoring. Luckily, we managed not to get caught in any of the thunderstorms. You could even see the hail drop out of the clouds fifteen miles away. One of the field work days was cancelled due to flooding on the main road to Gillette, Wyoming. Another bird transect surveying project was temporarily cancelled due to flash flooding and muddy roads. (Seriously, the country roads after a thunderstorm could get very slippery and muddy. Good bye car washed government vehicle, hello muddy object with wheels… <_<)
Severe Thunderstorm near Gillette, Wyoming.
Thunder Basin was an amazing place to monitor! We encountered shallow explosion quakes, viewed a lot of wildlife, and monitored many interesting kind of habitats. I would never forget this region. Now, onwards to the Southern Gillette allotments for future monitoring assignments!! (/O_O)/
Field of BLM Dreams
One of the days, we all got to take a break and go to an area north of Sheridan, Wyoming to plant different grasses. Our goal was to plant nine thousand Green Needlegrass and Bluebunch wheatgrass grass (Pseudoroegneria spicata) in a prepared irrigation field located along the Tongue River. Many BLM employees, seasonal workers, interns, and volunteers were hard at work planting the grasses. We thought this project was going to take two or three days, but we managed to complete the project in one day!! Everything was all prepared and all we needed to do was visit the site a couple of times a week to turn on and off the water for the plants. Hopefully, we will create a Field of BLM Dreams for future seed collections for restoration projects. 😉
Planting Green Needlegrass!!
Devils Tower \(O_O\)
Devils Tower! Look at all of the phonolite!!
All of the Buffalo, Wyoming CLM interns decided to take a Sunday afternoon trip to Devils Tower! We had a very adventurous day. The tour began at the prairie dog village where many prairie dogs were active and chirping. The little prairie dogs were pretty cute and were playing with their siblings. Next, we took a short hike around the base of Devils Tower and watched different climbers crawl up the sides of the geologic feature. Some of the climbers looked super tired and every so often the turkey vultures would investigate to see if everyone was alive. We saw a variety of butterflies and flowers throughout the hike, which made us stop in our tracks and investigate the species. Later on, we met up with Heather’s friend and we were taken on a small tour of the Devils Tower Lodge. At the end of the tour, we got to walk across the slack line. The process was a challenge, but if you relaxed and stayed focused, you could easily walk back and forth on the slack line…with two poles in both hands. Also, we did not see any aliens…just a lot of alien merchandise at the gift stores. 😀
Time for a Prairie Dog Gif Comic
Whenever Prairie Dogs see a CLM Intern.